Some observations on use at DVinfo.net

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Canon XL H Series HDV Camcorders
Canon XL H1S (with SDI), Canon XL H1A (without SDI). Also XL H1.


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Old January 11th, 2006, 11:27 AM   #1
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Some observations on use

I've been shooting and going through footage and making new discoveries every day. I landed running with the H1 and began shooting a documentary the day after I received it, so most of my "tests" are actual footage and undocumented (ie, stop, focal length, etc.)

First and foremost, the image is noticeably better with the gain set at -3..., which in fact is 0, but that has been gone into at length in previous posts. (the camera should "go to 11", but would there be "Extra Dobly"?)

There is a creamy, very nice look with this camera and the 20X (I'm using the 16X too, but these comments are reserved for footage with the "stock" lens).

I shoot mostly with a Tiffen 4x4 1/2 SoftFX (Chrosziel matte box), because much of this is close-up of a woman's face and hands while she paints and speaks about her work. I am pleased that the surface of the filter doesn't present itself in wide shots, even at f4 as it tends to with 1/3" SD cameras. The image is stunning.

I use a Warm SoftFX, and previously I always white balanced first and then inserted the filter. With this camera I've found that white balancing with the filter in produces a more pleasing, warm skin tone.

I'm lighting, but holding the levels down so I can shoot at f1.6 - f2 as much as possible to provide selective focus.. again, the images are really nice at those stops. I'm using one or two daylight balanced lamps from an old Mini-Brute and lighting from outside, through windows, which is always my preference.

Eyeball focusing is a little bit of a problem with the viewfinder, but I'm used to an Aaton film camera where the image flickers and gets dark when the camera runs, so it's not distracting for me. The auto focus (20X), as I've mentioned before, is sluggish, and the momentary Auto Focus switch is awkward to use.

The HDV audio is acceptable. I'm only recording voice and some effects at this point using a Sennheiser 416 on a pole. Nothing negative so far.

The only really negative thing I have to report is that after getting home and reviewing the footage it's a real bummer to know that it'll be a long time before anyone else ever sees this footage in HD. My current venues are SD, and I've grown to hate the look of SD. "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Pare-e-e?"... Steve Rosen
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Old January 11th, 2006, 07:05 PM   #2
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Canon XL H1 Focus

Steve Rosen, in his recent post, opined "eyeball focusing is a little bit of a problem with the viewfinder". Do most H1 users share this opinion?

We're going to be doing a low budge wildlife shoot in Africa starting in May.
We need something longer than the Sony Z1 12x lens and have been leaning toward the Canon H1. (We're making a HD delivery).

Dragging a HD monitor into the field would be difficult.

Is it realistic to assume that our "SD wildlife camera people" will be able to
quickly find focus (as the elephant charges)?

This is my first post. Great site. Many thoughtful postings.

Thanks- WC
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Old January 11th, 2006, 09:18 PM   #3
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I'm with Steve on this, but I'm not sure it's just the H1. None of these cameras have the resolution in their viewfinders to truly be trusted with HD focuse. The downside to such awesome clarity in the picture, is that you'll see an un-focused shot VERY easily.

It takes some getting used to, but you can get pretty darn close most of the time, and hopefully lucky the rest of the time! The solution is to have a monitor in the field, even if it's a 5" or 7" LCD.

If I wasn't so burnt out after a long day of editing, I'm sure I would have said something very funny here about the "elephant charging."

Kevin
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Old January 12th, 2006, 10:07 AM   #4
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As I mentioned, the focusing is slightly difficult, but not much worse than focusing a film camera (while it's running). In exterior work, shooting at f4 or more, with the ability to zoom in to full telephoto without loosing a stop of viewfinder brightness (it's f3.4 at full telephoto), shouldn't be a problem at all.

One thing that is useful is that when using the 20X, the distance, in feet or meters, is displayed in the viewfinder. I find I use this feature often. I zoom in on the subject, make a mental note of the footage scale, then, if the subject moves closer, I can compensate by guestimate even while at wide angle.

Another choice, besides a monitor, which is impractical in most documentary work, would be a high resolution B&W finder. But, personally, I haven't had any out of focus problems as long as I'm careful, and I like the color finder because I can compensate for white balance on the run (by using the "K" setting, nice fnew feature).

I mentioned the focus issue only because it has been brought up in previous posts. And it is, as stated above, not any worse than any of the new-generation "prosumer" color viewfinders... Steve Rosen
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Old January 12th, 2006, 10:11 AM   #5
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Oh, and I forgot to mention... if an elephant is charging, put it on automatic focus and run like hell. I'm not being funny here. A woman producer friend of mine from Survival Anglia was killed by a charging elephant about 30 years ago - I mistrust elephants, water buffalo and helicopters... Steve Rosen
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Old January 12th, 2006, 03:51 PM   #6
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I love the footage...

...produced by XL H1. But I don't love the EVF. Not good enough for a high end camera like the H1. And I don't love the (strange) ergonomics. Can't really find the balance.... I'm using a simple 7" 16:9 field monitor for a little better control!

All Best /
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Old January 12th, 2006, 05:58 PM   #7
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Jonas: Ever shoot with a Bolex? It was the "pro-sumer" independent film camera of the late 60's and 70's. It had a beam splitting prism. One third of the light went to the finder, two thirds to the film.. Talk about a bad viewfinder. I shot lots of films with one, though, including many low light rock concerts and the feature documentary ACAPULCO GOLD, which was blown up to 35 for theatrical release. ENDLESS SUMMER was shot with one. ON ANY SUNDAY (the motorcycle racing film that Bruce Brown also made, and on which I worked some) was shot mostly with Bolexes too.

I'm not excusing Canon for any weaknesses here. But the DVX, HVX and XL2 are no better. True, accurate focus is theoretically more critical with HDV, but any format, 16mm, super16, DV or HDV needs to be sharp if it's going to be seen on a large screen.

I wish the finder was better, but I recognize and accept that compromises are going to be made on equipment in the under $15,000 price range. If it makes me work a little harder, then that's the price I pay for not paying the "price"... Steve Rosen
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Old January 12th, 2006, 07:32 PM   #8
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Gentlemen-

Thanks for the focusing feedback. Does anyone have a favorite (reasonably affordable) HD LCD or Monitor for the field?

Again, I appreciate the input.

Wayne Crawford
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Old January 12th, 2006, 09:16 PM   #9
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Wayne, The following threads may be of interest to you.

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=57956

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=56603
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Old January 12th, 2006, 11:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne Crawford
Steve Rosen, in his recent post, opined "eyeball focusing is a little bit of a problem with the viewfinder". Do most H1 users share this opinion?

We're going to be doing a low budge wildlife shoot in Africa starting in May.
We need something longer than the Sony Z1 12x lens and have been leaning toward the Canon H1. (We're making a HD delivery).

Dragging a HD monitor into the field would be difficult.

Is it realistic to assume that our "SD wildlife camera people" will be able to
quickly find focus (as the elephant charges)?

This is my first post. Great site. Many thoughtful postings.

Thanks- WC
Wayne, I used my Z1 with a telephoto in Zambia this summer and it was a PITA(way out of balance and wide shots equals take it off). I also played with the H1 in B&H the other day and focus was the most important feature I was looking at...punching through the bush while zooming isn't easy and I know exactly where you are coming from. The camera does as well as the Sony I have but it takes some eye strain to get it right and yes out of focus shows big time with HDV. For what you want this is the camera...the rest are fixed lens and 12x without a tele doesn't come close. BTW here are the elephant shots you mentioned, the one at the end(needs a dentist) is the best. :)
http://www.rdonato.com/Elephants/Africa_2.wmv
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Old January 13th, 2006, 02:19 AM   #11
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Evf

Maybe I'm to picky - but compared to my simple Prosumer Sonys HDR-HC1, the H1:S EVF is not good enough. Sony's is much better, sharper, better peaking and focus zoom. I also like Sonys live histogram. But as you say, I will get use to work and find the Canon way...!

An overall reflection; as I come from still photography, my experience is, different cameras is good for different tasks. So I''m quite happy with my H1...
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Old January 13th, 2006, 03:08 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Rosen
Ever shoot with a Bolex? It was the "pro-sumer" independent film camera of the late 60's and 70's. ENDLESS SUMMER was shot with one. ON ANY SUNDAY (the motorcycle racing film that Bruce Brown also made, and on which I worked some) was shot mostly with Bolexes too.

Steve Rosen
Sorry this is OT but...

I still own & shoot with a Bolex RX5 quite regularly..... My favourite camera.. Its the real "Film Look" as we all try to imitate...

Steve, What was it like working with Bruce?
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Old January 13th, 2006, 09:57 AM   #13
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Bolex was/is a terriffic little camera in a lot of ways. Wish I could say something about working with Bruce Brown, but I never actually met him (at that time). I was an uderdrad in the UCLA film Dept, an ex-surfer and into riding dirt bikes. I saw a notice on the Dept bulletin board and responded to a PA, thought it would be a great experience. Shot a hair & hound, one of several uncredited cameramen standing out in the middle of the desert engulfed in dust, shooting 100' loads spring wound... Don't know for sure if any of it even ended up in the film (embarrassed to say I never saw it).

Back to the topic. The sharpness of HDV in general is unnerving at times. It has been mentioned before, but it bears repeating... it will show any little blemish on a face, more than even 35mm, and women, especially, need some help..., you absolutely have to use some diffussion for close-ups. I've been using a SoftFX 1/2, am switching to a 1 for the rest of this shoot.... Steve Rosen
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Old January 13th, 2006, 10:10 AM   #14
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Just a quick note to say my experience is similar to Jonas's. I guess I will get used to it, but the EVF on the H1 is not as good as on the Sony FX1.

And the Sony LCD panel is significantly better than the LCD panel lurking within the H1 viewfinder.
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Old January 13th, 2006, 11:09 AM   #15
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Quote:
it's a real bummer to know that it'll be a long time before anyone else ever sees this footage in HD
I noticed this when I got my FX1. Here it was, sitting on my montitors looking amazing, and I was delivering primarily to itty bitty web-compressed stuff trying to fit file-size limitations. *sigh*

-Steve
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